I was looking forward to the television dramatisation of Len Deighton’s SS-GB. I have intended to read the novel for ages, but never got round to it. That was foolish of me, especially as I have read C.J. Sansom’s Dominion, a rather poor attempt at an alternate history based on Germany winning the war. That book could have been good, as most of Sansom’s books are, but he decided to ruin it by portraying various real politicians of the time as Nazis when they clearly were not and would never have collaborated with Germany.
Beaverbrook is made Nazi Prime Minister (Sansom doesn’t like newspaper proprietors). Enoch Powell, the Tory who voted Labour in the 1945 election because he couldn’t forgive the Conservatives for Munich and who famously declared that he wished he had died for his country in the war, is also depicted as a Nazi (Sansom assumes that anyone on the right in British politics must really be a Nazi). All members of the SNP are said to be Nazis (Sansom, like me, opposes Scottish independence but, unlike me, jumps to the conclusion that anyone who disagrees with him must be a supporter of Hitler). Dominion was disappointing. But SS-GB is universally acclaimed as a triumph. Maybe, I thought, watching it on the box would be fun.
The first episode was on tonight. I watched it (I don’t think I have watched anything other than the news and election programmes for years). I could tell it was good. It looked authentic. But the trouble was that I could only make out about a quarter of the dialogue. This, I am told, is a frequent problem with modern BBC drama. I suppose the directors think they are being realistic. In the real world lots of people mumble incoherently, so that is what the actors should do in television drama. The problem, though, is that that makes it a little difficult to follow the plot.
I shan’t give up. Apparently there is a button one can press to get subtitles. I will use that for the next episodes. But I think I will also do what I should have done ages ago: I will read the book.